Nick Saban

Predictions 101 — Week 14

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Last week, we went 5-2 straight and versus “the number,” nailing the three biggies at the top of the list.

Let’s see how we do with the regular season’s final set, which is dripping with BCS implications.

TOP 5 GAMES OF THE WEEK (Thurs., Nov. 29, thru Sat., Dec. 1)

1) No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Georgia in SEC title game at Atlanta
Sat., Dec. 1 — 4 p.m. ET, CBS

This SEC championship game doubles as a national semifinal, but in our mind it’s also for all the marbles. Either the Crimson Tide or Bulldogs will earn the honor of winning the SEC’s seventh consecutive BCS championship with a victory over No. 1 Notre Dame in Miami on Jan. 7.

While quick to jump to the conclusion above, we’re slow to adopt the prevailing opinion that Alabama will beat Georgia.

If we had the choice, we’d take the Bulldog defense over the Tide’s. Georgia linebackers Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree are as good as it gets at their respective positions, and they’re just the beginning.

Despite the rock steady quarterbacking of junior A.J. McCarron, the Alabama offense will experience its share of three-and-outs.

When the Bulldogs have the football, the same can be said. The big question revolves around how Georgia triggerman Aaron Murray rises to the occasion.

Against the two toughest teams he’s played this season, Murray struggled. In the Dawgs’ lone loss, a 35-7 debacle at South Carolina on Oct. 6, he was just 11-of-31 for 109 yards with an interception. Although Georgia beat Florida, 17-9, three weeks later to earn this trip to Atlanta, Murray wasn’t the reason. In fact, the Bulldogs won in spite of the three INTs he threw during a 12-of-25 performance that yielded 150 yards and a touchdown pass.

Murray hasn’t been picked off in any of the four games since the Cocktail Party, but the fact that four of his seven interceptions this season came against the only two teams that are even remotely capable of playing defense at Alabama’s level is worrisome.

Murray, who also hasn’t been able to get Georgia over the hump in its past two bowl games, is trying something new this week. He imposed his own personal media blackout, presumably to restrict questions about not being a big-game quarterback from affecting his performance.

We don’t look at that as a good sign and it tipped the scales.

Opening point spread: Alabama by 7 1/2

The pick: Alabama 23-20

2) No. 14 Nebraska vs. Wisconsin in Big Ten title game at Indianapolis
Sat., Dec. 1 — 8:17 p.m. ET, FOX

The Badgers haven’t had the season they expected, losing five regular-season games and going .500 in league play. But they aren’t about to conclude that this just isn’t their year and roll over for the Cornhuskers.

It’s quite the opposite actually. This is Wisconsin’s second chance, a holiday gift like no other.

If they play their cards right, the Badgers are potentially 120 minutes of football away from being crowned Rose Bowl champions. (No Oregon in Pasadena … just Stanford or UCLA!)

Remember that Wisconsin gave Nebraska all it could handle in Lincoln on Sept. 29. The Badgers appeared headed to victory after taking a 27-10 lead in the third quarter, but the Huskers scored 20 answered points on four consecutive drives.

Wisconsin had a chance to win the game in the final minutes, but tailback Montee Ball fumbled on a fourth-and-one, allowing the Cornhuskers to run out the clock.

Ball ran for 90 yards and three touchdowns on 32 carries. But in the end, his team netted only 56 rushing yards.

Nebraska had far less difficulty, rumbling for 259 yards on the ground.

That’ll even out a bit in the rematch and the game will go down to the wire. Something tells us the Badgers will go for a two-point conversion or take some chances in the fourth quarter to avoid overtime, which has been a 0-3 proposition for them this season.

Opening point spread: Nebraska by 2 1/2

The pick: Nebraska 24-23

3) No. 17 UCLA at No. 8 Stanford in Pac-12 title game
Fri., Nov. 30 — 8 p.m. ET, FOX

This prediction comes courtesy of Shane Hedani from the P101 satellite office in Maunawili, Hawai‘i.

After winning Round 1, which determined that there would be a rematch with Oregon watching on TV, Cardinal head coach David Shaw said: “I expect them to give us everything. I expect this to be a very tough, physical game. It’s going to be 10 times harder. We’re going to get their best shot.”

We share that belief. After exchanging opening drive touchdowns and holding Stanford to a trio of three-and-outs, UCLA head coach Jim Mora clearly called off the dogs.

Following the 35-17 Cardinal victory, an ornery L.A Times columnist asked Mora if he treated the contest like an NFL preseason charade in order to avoid playing Oregon and hide game plan elements from Stanford. The exchange was supremely entertaining.

After the first-quarter stalemate, who could blame Mora for going vanilla against a team that’s clearly a far easier matchup than the Ducks? Why not avoid Eugene as if the plague had broken out there? Palo Alto is beautiful this time of year.

Check how many times Mora had Jonathan Franklin run the ball on first down. The predictable play calling was designed to finish the game, not win it.

Round 2 will be a back-and-forth affair that will surprise many. In the end, Mora’s gamesmanship will come up short in a tight contest. A final clock-killing drive, showing what Stanford is made of, will seal it.

Opening point spread: Stanford by 10

The pick: Stanford 34-27

4) No. 13 Florida State vs. Georgia Tech in ACC title game at Charlotte, N.C.
Sat., Dec. 1 — 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

Both teams are busy licking their wounds on the way to this ACC Championship Game.

The Seminoles saw their faint BCS title hope go up in flames in a 37-26 loss to Florida last Saturday, while the Yellow Jackets were brushed aside, 42-10, by Georgia on its way toward a possible BCS title game appearance.

The difference in this contest is that Florida State’s defense has the ability to bounce back from its leaky outing. Georgia Tech’s problems on that side of the ball figure to persist.

That’s not to say that the Seminoles will shut down the Yellow Jacket option attack, after allowing the Gators to roam for 240 yards on the ground, but even with the loss of defensive end Tank Carradine to a knee injury, they clearly have the athletes to keep it in check.

Look for E.J. Manuel and the rest of the FSU offense to spring a bunch of big plays to easily claim a spot in the Orange Bowl (against … see below).

Opening point spread: Florida State by 13

The pick: Florida State 37-20

5) Louisville at Rutgers
Thurs., Nov. 29 — 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

The Cardinals are ticketed for the ACC and the Scarlet Knights are bound for the Big Ten, but we’re still talking about the Big East here, so this predicting business is unquestionably an effort in futility.

Nevertheless, there’s important stuff going on in Piscataway. If the Scarlet Knights win, they play in their first BCS game. If the Cardinals are victorious, they’ll likely get the Orange Bowl nod.

Cardinal quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will play with a broken left wrist. The Louisville running game is equally banged up with running back Senorise Perry on the shelf (ACL). In its last two games, Louisville has rushed for a total of only 75 yards.

All of that doesn’t add up to success versus Rutgers, which is allowing only 13.7 points per game.

Opening point spread: Rutgers by 2

The pick: Rutgers 26-17

Group of Five Power-Ranking: Memphis rising, Boise State and Western Michigan remain undefeated

MEMPHIS, TN - OCTOBER 17:  Student section of the Memphis Tigers celebrates after a touchdown during a game against the Ole Miss Rebels at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium on October 17, 2015 in Memphis, Tennessee.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
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As another weekend of college football came to a close, there was no reason to suggest anyone was ready to knock Houston out of the pole position in the season-long Group of Five power ranking this week. The Cougars blasted Texas State on the road and look poised to make a run through the American Athletic Conference this season. It may not have been a great weekend for the MAC, but Western Michigan continues to make things interesting in Kalamazoo that can not be ignored. And then there is another school sporting the nickname of the Broncos that continues to stay in the running.

One spot in the New Years Six lineup will be reserved for the highest-ranked conference champion from the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West Conference or Sun Belt Conference. Houston received that invite last season and appears well on its way to taking it once again this season (unless they wiggle into the College Football Playoff by chance).

So, here is how I would rank the Group of Five contenders through four weeks of play.

1. Houston (4-0)

The Cougars are on a roll after a 64-3 victory over Texas State. Next up for Tom Herman‘s Cougars is a revenge game at home against UConn. The Huskies were the only team to defeat Houston last season, but Greg Ward Jr. is healthy this time around.

2. Western Michigan (4-0)

The Broncos took care of business at home against Georgia Southern, scoring 28 second quarter points to go on to win 49-31. Western Michigan has two wins against Big Ten opponents and looks to be the best team the MAC has to offer. 12-0 in play? Hmmm…

3. San Diego State (3-0)

The Aztecs were off this week, but that does not hurt them here. The highlight has been running back Donnell Pumphrey and they are the second of two Group of Five teams to be ranked  by the voters. It should be smooth sailing to the MWC Championship Game.

4. Boise State (3-0)

Boise State is not going away though, not after a second victory over a Pac-12 team (OK, so it was Oregon State and they already beat Washington State, but still). Boise State looks to have a more challenging schedule ahead of them than San Diego State, but keep an eye out for the Broncos.

5. Memphis (3-0)

If you thought losing a head coach to a bigger program and a starting quarterback to the NFL was going to slow down Memphis, think again. The Tigers put 77 on the board in a 77-3 blowout of Bowling Green. Memphis has outscored their FBS opponents 120-10 in the last two games. Next up? A road trip to Ole Miss.

On the Radar: Air Force, Central Michigan, Cincinnati, Eastern Michigan, Georgia Southern, Middle Tennessee, Navy, Southern Miss, Troy, Tulsa, UCF, USF

Michigan reclaims top spot in college football history record books

ANN ARBOR, MI - SEPTEMBER 24: Chris Wormley #43 of the Michigan Wolverines celebrates after sacking the quarterback during the first quarter of the game against the Penn State Nittany Lions with his teammates Maurice Hurst #73 and Taco Charlton #33 at Michigan Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images
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The Michigan Wolverines already owned the top spot in college football’s record book for most all-time wins, but it took back the top spot in another statistical category worth recognizing on Saturday. Michigan is the new number one team in college football history with the best all-time winning percentage, nudging one ten-thousandth of a point past Notre Dame.

With Michigan improving to 4-0 on the season with a blowout win over Penn State and Notre Dame slumping out to a 1-3 start this season, the Wolverines picked up enough ground on their rivals from South Bend to make up for the difference in the winning percentage race.

Most people may not care about such nonsense, but Michigan and Notre Dame fans have long argued over these records, and debated which one matters more. Michigan held the claim to the most wins while Notre Dame would sound off about winning a larger percentage of their games. Now, at least for one week, Michigan holds the upper hand in both regards.

AP Top 25: Wisconsin, Texas A&M move up in top 10

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 24:  Trevor Knight #8 of the Texas A&M Aggies runs the ball against the Arkansas Razorbacks in the first quarter at AT&T Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
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Like the coaches poll, there was not a ton of movement toward the top of the AP Top 25 this week, although there are some musical chairs being played. Wisconsin moved into the top 10 following a win at Michigan State over the weekend, moving up to No. 8. No. 9 Texas A&M also moved up a spot following an overtime win against Arkansas.

No. 1 Alabama continues to pull in the most first-place votes with 50 this week. No. 2 Ohio State received four and No. 3 Louisville received six. No. 4 Michigan once again received one first-place vote, which has been the case each week thus far.

Boise State makes its first appearance in the AP poll this week, checking in at No. 24.

Here is the full AP Top 25 for this week, with first-place votes noted:

  1. Alabama (50)
  2. Ohio State (4)
  3. Louisville (6)
  4. Michigan (1)
  5. Clemson
  6. Houston
  7. Stanford
  8. Wisconsin
  9. Texas A&M
  10. Washington
  11. Tennessee
  12. Florida State
  13. Baylor
  14. Miami
  15. Nebraska
  16. Ole Miss
  17. Michigan State
  18. Utah
  19. San Diego State
  20. Arkansas
  21. TCU
  22. Texas
  23. Florida
  24. Boise state
  25. Georgia

Coaches Poll: Alabama No. 1, Wisconsin and Miami continue to climb

EAST LANSING, MI - SEPTEMBER 24:  Corey Clement #6 of the Wisconsin Badgers runs with the ball during the game against the Michigan State Spartns at Spartan Stadium on September 24, 2016 in East Lansing, Michigan.  (Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty Images)
Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty Images
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There was not a whole lot of movement in the top portion of the Amway Coaches Poll this week, as most of the top teams maintained their positioning within the top 10. Alabama remains on top of the coaches poll, without much debate, ahead of Ohio State, Clemson and Louisville.

The Miami Hurricanes had the biggest rise in the coaches poll this week, jumping up five spots to No. 14 with a 3-0 record. The Hurricanes trail No. 13 Baylor, the highest-ranked team in the Big 12 in this week’s coaches poll.

No. 8 Wisconsin is one of three Big Ten teams in the top 10, joining Ohio State and No. 5 Michigan. No. 15 Nebraska moved ahead of No. 16 Michigan State this week.

Here is the full coaches top 25 for this week, with first-place votes noted;

  1. Alabama (61)
  2. Ohio State (2)
  3. Clemson (1)
  4. Louisville
  5. Michigan
  6. Stanford
  7. Houston
  8. Wisconsin
  9. Washington
  10. Texas A&M
  11. Tennessee
  12. Florida State
  13. Baylor
  14. Miami
  15. Nebraska
  16. Michigan State
  17. Ole Miss
  18. Utah
  19. TCU
  20. Georgia
  21. Florida
  22. Arkansas
  23. North Carolina
  24. San Diego State
  25. Texas